Category Archives: Simplicity Project

Christmas Tree

Our Grown-Up Christmas List [#GenerousTuesday]


Being a parent has changed how we think about things. We’re more mindful. We want things to be more meaningful. We want to raise children who know why we celebrate the holidays we celebrate. Children who are passionate about justice, humility, and mercy.

As Advent approaches, we’ve done a lot of reflecting on how we want to celebrate Christmas this year and in the years to come. Doing things the way we’ve always done it just won’t cut it anymore. It’s hard to deny that Christmas has become way too commercialized and gotten incredibly out of hand. This year, stores were trying to get us to spend money on Christmas even before Halloween had come and gone!

We don’t want to give and receive a bunch of stuff that no one will ever really use. We don’t want to spend money at big name stores knowing that the profits won’t be used to help anyone who really needs it.

So this year, we’ve decided that we will use Christmas to focus on giving to others. On Christmas day, the three of us will wake up, share Christmas breakfast, read the Christmas story, maybe watch The Nativity Story, and then bundle ourselves up and head out to the streets of Atlanta to spend time with those won’t wake up to a warm breakfast.

And this year, we’ve created a different kind of Christmas list. We’re calling it our Grown-up Christmas List. Instead of a list of “stuff” that we’d like, it’s a list where each gift gives twice. Some call this alternative giving but we’re calling it generous giving. We want to receive gifts that will make a difference.

Here’s what’s on our Christmas list this year…

ELCA Good Gifts
With gifts costing as little as $10 and going all the way up to $3,000, there is something for everyone in this catalog. We know the ELCA does great things with their money and would be honored to receive any gift from this catalog. Plus – there’s just something so cute about receiving the gift of baby chicks!!

Compassion Gift Catalog
We sponsor two children through Compassion and it is an organization that is near and dear to us. Knowing that other children and families are being provided for is something that would make us very happy this Christmas.

Global Exchange Gift Membership
This organization spends a lot of time and money working for justice and equality all around the world. We try our best to stick to fair trade coffee and chocolate, and Global Exchange has some of the best! We would love a gift that provides for others in this way.

Angel Trees
Our church always has multiple angel trees. If I had the means, I’d take every ornament off them and buy everything on their list (and more). There are so many people in need of things we often take for granted – a warm coat, clean socks and undies, a blanket with no holes. We would love for people to take an extra angel off their church’s angel tree and use the money they would spend on us to buy that person whatever they need.

And then we know there are some people who, for whatever reason, just don’t feel right about getting us a gift from this list. People who want something to wrap. People who want to provide for us the things that we need or want. We’ve asked some of those people for a gift membership to various places – things that we will use, as a family, throughout the year. But what we’d really love is for those people to spend wisely. To purchase gifts for us from places that will support those in need. Ten Thousand Villages, ISanctuary, & Made By Survivors are three of our favorite places to shop for gifts.

But – if you must shop at big name stores – Target, Macy’s, Home Depot and the like – please … please … do it through Pure Charity. We are. And we’re saving our rewards and will donate them to help build an orphanage. By shopping online, through Pure Charity, we are making sure that every gift we give this year gives twice.

We hope that our grown-up Christmas list can help take back the meaning of Christmas. We hope it will help us, and those giving to us, remember that Christmas really is about God’s extravagant generosity and grace – and not about receiving a bunch of stuff.

What’s on your Christmas list this year?

It’s Generous Tuesday, ya’ll! Let’s spread the word!

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gazpacho!

Top Ten Recipes [Real Food]


We discovered a lot of new recipes as part of our real food journey. As we promised at the very beginning, here are our favorites from the month. They’ve become staples in our meal planning rotation. And they were all relatively easy!

Honey Ginger Chicken
D made this for me on Mother’s Day. He combined a couple of recipes to make this deliciousness. The best part? I didn’t have to cook or prepare one bit! Stay tuned … we’ll post the recipe soon, I promise!

Chicken Tortilla Soup
This was totally an accident, but may have been the best mistake we made all month!

Honey Whole Wheat Bread
We adapt this recipe – leaving out the lecithin and using the dough setting on our machine. When the dough cycle is done, we put it in bread pans to rise. It makes TWO loaves!

A trick we discovered: if you preheat the oven to 200, turn it off for 10 minutes, and then put the pans covered with a towel in the warm oven, it rises to double in 30 minutes or so. Take the pans out, preheat the oven to 350, and bake the loaves about 30 minutes or until brown.

We won’t buy bread from the store ever again…for real.

Honey Strawberry Jam
We tried to use this recipe, but ended up doubling the amount of honey in it on accident. So we purposely changed the name to reflect that! We’re almost done with our 6 1/2 pints … which means we’ll have to experiment with blueberry or blackberry soon!

Leek, Potato & Spinach Stew
We totally came across this recipe by chance. We got spinach, leeks, and potatoes in our Nature’s Garden box one week and discovered this the Saturday after it came. It was delicious. We made it twice. It’s even better leftover.

We did make a couple of changes … we used local chicken sausage instead of turkey, we used dried beans (soaking them overnight and cooking in the crockpot for 6 hours or so), and homemade chicken broth (I make this with the leftover stuff from a roasted whole chicken.)

Gazpacho
I’d give you the recipe for this one, but it seems to change every time we make it. Some tomatoes, cucumbers, onion, peppers, garlic, herbs, olive oil, sherry or white wine or vinegar … it all depends on what we have or what we can find at the farmer’s market. This is, by far, our favorite summer soup.

It’s supposed to be eaten cold, but we like it warm too. Sometimes we add shrimp on top, sometimes we add a little avocado, and other times we just eat it with a homemade whole wheat pita. Every time, it does not disappoint.

Lemon asparagus penne
This was the first Meatless Monday recipe we tried. My favorite part of this meal was D’s reaction. I don’t like asparagus, he said. Tough, I said, you’re going to try it. So he cut it up real tiny, mixed it with all the other veggies, and actually liked it! We left out the sundried tomatoes because we didn’t have any at the time, but when we make it again we’ll use the homemade ones we just made!

Crockpot Oatmeal
You’ve already read about my new love for steel cut oats. They are so very easy to make in the crockpot … and it makes waking up in the morning a real treat. We combine a few recipes … so stay tuned, we’ll post ours in a few days!

Mini Breakfast Casserole
There are lots of different ways to make this one. Basically, you take your favorite breakfast casserole, put it in muffin cups instead of a casserole dish, and you end up with mini casseroles that can be heated up and eaten on the go. We’ve got a couple of favorite recipes for this … we’ll share soon!

Cinnamon Raisin Bread
Yum. I need to make this again. With cream cheese on it … it’s to die for. Breakfast, lunch, snack … yes, please!

What are your favorite real food recipes?

The bulk section by Kristina D.C. Hoeppner

Ten [Real Food] Discoveries



Our month-long real food journey is over, but it really changed the way we think about food. We had so many great discoveries throughout the month and are so glad we took the plunge. Here are our ten favorite discoveries from the month.

Maple Syrup. I will rarely use sugar in my coffee again. And most times when something calls for a sweetener, I will by default go to maple syrup (or honey) instead of sugar. I put it in oatmeal instead of brown sugar. I had no idea how delicious it really was. Maple syrup – you win!

Steel cut oats. I didn’t even know these existed. Someone told me about crockpot oatmeal, so I did some research and decided to try them out. They are soooo good! Sometimes the consistency of oatmeal weirds me out … but this stuff … it pops in your mouth. Amazing. I think I’m in love.

White whole wheat flour. Sometimes whole wheat flour is just too dense. But this stuff … did you know it was out there? You can use it instead of all-purpose flour in just about everything. White flour – be gone!

Spelt flour. About mid-month, baby girl had some serious eczema spots showing up. After some research, I thought maybe it was an allergic reaction to all the whole wheat we had been eating. We still aren’t sure if it is or not – but in the meantime, we discovered spelt flour. It’s a whole grain flour and has a most delicious flavor. I just made spelt bread for the first time in our bread maker, and it is definitely a winner. I *might* like it better than the whole wheat bread I love so much!

Dry beans. Um – for real. They are cheap. And so much better than the canned version. And it really doesn’t take that much effort to use them. Put them in a crockpot in water overnight (don’t turn it on!) The next day, drain them, put them back in the crockpot, add more water and a little salt if you’d like, and cook on low for 6-8 hours. Then you can freeze them and use them like you would canned beans. Seriously – let that slow cooker do your work!

The bulk section. Our Whole Foods has an incredible bulk section. Dry beans, oatmeal of all kinds, dried fruits, nuts, rice … it’s amazing. I love it. Triple heart it.

The scale. When you get rid of sugar, white flour, and cut back on meat, you lose weight … without really trying. I had re-joined Weight Watchers in an attempt to make sure I was eating enough good things and not as many bad things. I know … you shouldn’t diet while breastfeeding … which is why I chose Weight Watchers. But I quickly discovered that just by cutting out processed junk I didn’t even need to count points. I was eating less bad and more good … and the weight just came right off. Amazing.

You actually SAVE money! One of the biggest arguments against eating real food is that people can’t afford it. But we discovered that wasn’t true. By buying in bulk, planning meals that used the same ingredients, buying only what we needed for that week, and using our CSA delivery, we spent less money on groceries than usual. And ate better. Way better. Many of the items we bought cost a bit more (milk, cheese, meat, whole wheat flour, honey, maple syrup) but because we ate less meat and bought less junk we ended up spending less in the long run.

Your body functions better. This one seems like a no-brainer, right? After one week of eating real food, D commented on how regular he was. Hey – it’s an important part of life! We had more energy. We were happier. Less depressed moments. Less body ache. We felt great!

We are blessed. In so many ways. Part of the reason we embarked on this journey in the first place was to join the mutiny against excess. There is so much excess in our grocery stores … and we are so lucky to be able to choose from it. We learned how to really make good choices and make our statement against the junk that’s out there.

All in all, it was a successful month. It’s been two weeks off our real food journey and I’m sad to admit we have eaten a lot of crap in those two weeks. Cupcakes, cookies, white pasta, pizza delivery, chinese food … and we are definitely noticing a difference. Just this week we said “no more of that crap … let’s go back to our real food diet.”

Try it out … start with baby steps … it may just change your life!

Cookies

Cheating on [Real Food]

We cheated. In a big way. White sugar, brown sugar, chocolate chips. And boy was it delicious …

I had had some kind of day. Baby girl threw a fit in the car all the way to the chiropractor and all the way home. She did NOT want to be in her carseat. Then when we finally did get home, she was so stressed out about the car ride that she could never really settle for a nap. And neither could I.

D walked in the door from his first day at a new job and saw me standing … staring aimlessly … into the pantry. Before he could even say hi, I blurted out:

Please make the cookies. I don’t care that it’s cheating. I need them. Now.

Yup – it was total emotional eating – but it hit the spot. We made a whole batch, but they will soon go in the freezer so we don’t eat the whole bag. We’ve been known to do that with these cookies.

But … I guess if we were going to cheat, this was the recipe to use. No flour. Real butter. Whole grain oats and peanut butter. The only *fake* food in it was the sugar … and the chocolate chips. For the recipe, just head to your local Trader Joe’s and pick up their bag of rolled oats. The recipe is on the back.

And hey – give us a break – no one’s perfect. Especially not us …

strawberries

Farmer’s Market Delight [Real Food]


We have discovered the beauty of the farmer’s market. Strawberries, carrots, farm fresh eggs, pastured pork sausage, broccoli, spinach, garlic … it’s a beautiful thing really.

We have, for several months now, gotten fresh produce delivered to us from Nature’s Garden Delivered. We’ve alternated between mixed boxes, fruit boxes, and veggie boxes – finally settling on a all-veggie box as our primary selection. We can exchange three items each week, so we add some fruit in that way. Overall it’s been great for us … we have tried lots of new veggies just because we couldn’t make any more exchanges! Best of all – D discovered veggies weren’t as bad as he once thought they were.

But the farmer’s market is just so much more fun…

Baby girl seems to like the market too. We carry her around in the Ergo and she makes friends with whoever she meets. Even when they think she’s a boy!

So we’ve decided to make the farmer’s market a weekly outing. It may be the only place we can actually find milk from grass-fed cows and true free range eggs that eat nothing but seeds and bugs.

And the strawberries … oh man … to put it in the words of my sister: “That tastes like candy!”

We have discovered that the farmer’s market is not always cheaper than the regular grocery store. But – the quality is by far much better than anything you’d find in any grocery store. And much fresher too. So we’ve decided the little bit of extra cost is totally worth it. I never knew fruits and veggies could taste so good!

I don’t know we’ll do in the winter when the farmer’s market goes into hibernation…

Have you discovered your local farmer’s market? What are your favorite finds?

The Naked Foods Cookbook

The Naked Foods Cookbook [book review]

I was so excited when I discovered this cookbook … here it was – a cookbook that was going to make our real food journey so much easier! I had no idea there was a book already out there called Eat Naked – a book that helps people get rid of all the junk in our food. The Naked Foods Cookbook takes that book a step further – with all kinds of recipes. Some are easy and quick, others are more time-consuming and meant to be used for entertaining and wowing your friends.

I really liked how the book begins with a general explanation of what it means to eat naked. For those of us who hadn’t read the initial book, this was a good way to keep us hooked from the very beginning. The authors also do a very good job of helping people see that eating naked is not as hard as it may initially seem. Sure – it requires more prep work – but it is absolutely doable.

But – I was a little disappointed in the recipes. There were a handful or so that I flagged to try, but for the most part I thought they were a little strange. Many required ingredients that are not readily available unless you check out a specialty store. I was hoping for a book full of recipes using common ingredients – but instead, I found a book that wanted me to restock my kitchen before eating naked.

Now if you need a good gluten-free cookbook – it is definitely worth keeping in your kitchen. So many gluten-free recipes have lots of extra junk in them … this cookbook is wonderful for cutting out the junk and making clean food.

I’m convinced that it is easy to eat naked. This cookbook gave me lots of ideas of new things to try – but overall, I don’t think it’s a cookbook worth keeping in my kitchen. If you can check it out from the library or borrow it from a friend, go for it. It’s a quick read – and well worth it.

Jam Making

Adventures in Jam Making [Real Food]


Oh yes … we made jam this weekend. Unfortunately our farmer’s market didn’t have any strawberries Saturday morning, but Whole Foods had some local strawberries on sale … so we bought 4 pounds and decided to try our luck at it.

It was actually much easier than I thought it would be. I think the most difficult part was waiting for it to cool so we could try it out! We thought we’d share our helpful hints if you decide to try it yourself.

  1. If you only use 3 pounds of strawberries, make sure you half the honey too! Yeah … that’s right … we halved the amount of strawberries, but I put in the entire amount of honey. And I didn’t even realize it until the next day. It’s delicious … but sweet. And it took waaaaay longer to cook down thanks to the extra liquid.
  2. Sterilize more jars than you think will be necessary. We ended up with 3 1/2 pints (7 jars) but had only sterilized 6. So we were scrambling around at the last minute trying to get another jar sterilized and prepped. Thank goodness for the bottle sterilizing bags!
  3. You must have the canning kit. I don’t know how we would’ve done it without it.
  4. You don’t need a canner. We used our big soup pot and put a metal steam basket in the bottom. We could only boil 3 jars at a time because the basket isn’t totally flat on the bottom, but it worked.
  5. Be prepared for deliciousness. I mean insane deliciousness. D ate half a jar in one sitting. Yeah, it’s that good.

So – hit us up – what are your favorite jelly recipes? I think we’re hooked…

farmer's market by nguyen duong

It Gets Easier [Real Food]


Last week a reader shared this thought with me:

The last thing I want to hear about this food plan – is it all natural? organic? – is that you crave chocolate and are always hungry.

My response was simply, Stay tuned. I had no other response. I knew this journey would be hard. And I knew most people around me would think it was really not worth it. But I was confident that my strong desire for chocolate chips and my frustration at not being prepared would get better as the month went on. And I was right.

It has gotten easier. The first week was the hardest. Even though I had tried to prepare our kitchen and plan our meals for the month, the first week was still full of “oh no – that won’t work” moments. But we are beginning to get the hang of it.

We are no longer hungry all the time … but we eat more frequently. We eat until we’re full – which ends up being smaller portions than we used to eat. Most days we have three smallish meals and 2-3 snacks.

We are discovering that deliciousness comes from preparing your own meals. Sweet treats don’t have to be super sweet and filled with sugar. The crockpot has become our best friend.

Many people think I’m crazy to be doing this whole real food journey with a new baby in the house. How in the world do you have time for that? But the reality is – there is never a better time to start eating better. It will always be confusing and time consuming at first. We are conditioned to want quick, grab-n-go, no-prep food. But sadly, 95% of the quick, grab-n-go, no-prep food that’s out there is not really food…

We are no longer always hungry. We do still want chocolate. But, our initial journey is only 31 days. At the end of the month, we will allow ourselves to enjoy our favorite Trader Joe’s Gluten Free Oatmeal Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip cookies. We will make them ourselves. We will eat 1 or 2 and freeze the rest. Because after all, it’s all about moderation.

But this month – this month is about discipline. About forcing ourselves to find new foods that we like. Getting rid of the sugar cravings – or fulfilling them with a piece of fruit instead of a cookie. And remembering that we are so lucky to be able to travel to a farmer’s market each weekend and pick from a variety of delicious locally-grown produce. So blessed to be able to experiment with food and come up with incredibly creative meals – that we never would have eaten before.

Most of all, this month is about being thankful for what we have. Trust me my friends … switching to real food does, in fact, get easier.

Fast Food by Ian May

On the Road [Real Food]


This past weekend we took our first road trip of the month – to a family wedding. Early in the day D asked, Isn’t there dinner at the reception? What are we going to do?

My reply: We’re going to eat a little bit because it would be rude not to. But we’re not going to overdo it.

So we made ourselves a delicious real food lunch before we left and we prepared ourselves to break the rules – just a little. I forgot to pack snacks, so I was super hungry by the time we got to the wedding. As the reception began, we discovered the menu included bbq pork sandwiches, baked beans, baked apples, potato salad, and brunswick stew. We were about to break the rules in a big way …

BBQ sauce, buns made with white flour, potato salad with mayo, baked beans and apples full of brown sugar, and let’s not forget the cupcakes full of white sugar…

I ate a sandwich. Took a bite of apples and decided they were too sweet. That was it. I couldn’t justify breaking the rules any further than that. And to be honest, nothing really appealed to me. D ate a little more than me (including a cupcake) but we agreed we’d stop for “real food” on our way home.

But … on the way home … there was nowhere to stop. Baby girl was not a happy camper. She hates car rides. By the time we got somewhere that might have had real food options, she had fallen asleep. I was not about to get her out of the car. So – we rode home hungry.

Have you ever taken an inventory of the restaurants in your neighborhood? I never noticed just how much junk food was out there until I was riding down the road with a rumbling tummy.

As we passed Arby’s, Dunkin’ Donuts, Chick-fil-A, McDonalds, and on and on and on, I was reminded why we started this journey in the first place. Our real food journey is about more than just eating healthy. It’s about being thankful that we have access to good, quality food. It’s about remembering all those people around the world who don’t have three meals a day.

I guess I just never realized how much convenience food is around us until I couldn’t eat it. And you know what? Even when my tummy is rumbling because I’m hungry, I don’t want the food of convenience. I didn’t even want to stop at all the places we passed. I was simply frustrated at myself for not planning ahead and bringing healthy snacks.

There are so many people who don’t have access to healthy food. So many people who have no access to any food at all. So this month isn’t just about our desire to eat better. It’s about eating better because we can. It’s about being thankful for being able to eat healthy. And it’s about learning how to eat what God intended us to eat. Real food.

Chocolate chips by Ayelie

Juggling Act [Real Food]


I’m not going to lie. Our real food journey is getting tougher. It’s only been a week and I’ve never wanted chocolate chips more in my life.

When you forget to plan for breakfast or lunch … and you’re a new mom breastfeeding … well, let’s just say you don’t realize how much you normally eat that is processed until you can’t eat it.

Real food means taking time to prepare it. Your definition of fast food becomes fruit, grab-n-go veggies like carrots and snow peas, and Lara bars. Side note: if you’ve never had Lara bars, check them out. They are delish. My personal favorites are Cherry Pie, Carrot Cake, and Ginger Snap. Although the Key Lime and Lemon Bar ones are scrumptious too.

It also means you’re hungry. All the time.

Continue reading

Tortilla Soup by sriram bala

Failure to Success in 40 Minutes [Real Food]


It’s Thursday evening. The chicken has been cooking in one crockpot all day – the black beans in another. Tonight’s planned menu: chicken tacos.

D comes home and takes the baby. I head to the kitchen to finish up dinner. Look in the freezer for our whole wheat tortillas and discover they are multigrain. And filled with stuff I can’t pronounce. So I pull out the tortillas made out of a wheat/corn mixture and check the ingredients. Again, quite a few things I can’t pronounce. Crap. This is not a good sign.

I pull out the tortilla chips from the cabinet. Very few ingredients – corn, oil, and salt. But they are fried … and we think that would be cheating just a little. We can just eat chicken and beans. It’d might be good over some rice.

We open the top of crockpot #1 and discover the bottom is burned. I didn’t put any liquid in with the chicken … the recipe didn’t call for it. But I guess my salsa wasn’t liquidy enough. I put the top back on, walk out of the kitchen, pitch a mini fit and then head to the bedroom to refocus my thoughts.

Continue reading

Going Natural Day 2 [Real Food]


Today was the first day in my life that I noticed every object of food or drink that people were carrying.

Coke cans, popsicles, oreos … mmm oreos … and one white styrofoam 20oz cup with a Strawberry Banana Smoothie from Smoothie King.

I am not 100% sure that it was strawberry banana, but that was the flavor I salivated for this afternoon. I was lucky enough to remember that I had a coupon for one free smoothie. I pulled out my phone so that I could locate the nearest Smoothie King. I opened up my map application, looked at the date, and remembered one key thing: today is May 2nd, and we have been on our month of “only natural food” for less than 48 hours.

No smoothie. No cokes. No oreos.

I try to think to myself: I’m a lucky guy. When I get home, I get to choose a ripe banana or a juicy strawberry from the fridge. I don’t need any sugary deliciousness drinks from a franchise.

I almost convinced myself that I was better off without the smoothie. I drove off and left all thoughts of processed ANYTHING behind me.

See there is one big problem with my entire thought process. I dont have to convince myself. I KNOW I don’t need that sugary stuff. I know I dont “need” an oreo. I know I dont need that white goop in the middle of two chocolate type cookies.

After two days of eating healthier than I ever have before, I feel great! My energy levels are high, my potty breaks are regular, , and I feel like I can take on the world! Best of all we have found great substitutes for all those sugary treats in our pantry and it’s only day 2.

I feel like the more we dive into this natural month, the more stories about healthy living we will be able to share with you. Stay tuned as more natural posts come out the rest of this month!